Japan loves a good festival (matsuri). Around November and December, Japanese manufactures hold motorsport festivals as a way to end the year with a bang but also to say thanks to all their fans who’ve supported them. Mazda, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all hold such events near their headquarters. Mazda hosts a two-day event at Okayama International Circuit, Honda’s Racing Thanks Day is at Twin Ring Motegi, while Nissan and Toyota festivals are held at Fuji Speedway.
Last year I had a look at the NISMO Festival and it was pure motorsports heaven. It was basically their entire Zama Heritage Collection out on the circuit for a whole day taking turns wowing crowds. That event had more of a dynamic and racing emphasis, whereas Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Festival was a family-friendly day out to experience the varied motorsports Toyota is involved with.
This was more of a laid back event, you don’t really need to be a serious car guy to enjoy it. It seems people keep coming back to this event as the organisers claimed more than 43,000 came to the event. It was certainly busier than the NISMO Festival and busier than I had ever seen Fuji Speedway outside a major race event.
It was evident before even setting foot at the venue. The queue just to get in through the main gates at Fuji Speedway proved diﬃcult with traﬃc backed up for about half mile from the gate out to the main road. Driving past the various parking lots at Fuji Speedway and seeing them all full, painted a picture of just how popular Toyota is in its home market.
To most people overseas the image of Toyota might be reliable commuter cars and hybrid technology but in Japan they’re involved in a whole host of motorsports activities from endurance races, Super GT, Super Formula, and the NETZ Cup Vitz (Yaris) series. Today was all about bringing those cars, teams, and drivers together for the fans.
The NETZ Cup Vitz series is one of my favourite things to watch at Fuji. I don’t go out of my way to watch races but more often than not I’m usually at Fuji for another event while they’re having one of their races. There’s so much excitement and emotion, it’s more exciting to watch than pretty much any other racing series. There’s understeer, unpredictable overtaking, and a spin or two. One champ even managed to correct what could’ve been a disastrous spin while the person behind clearly saw what was about to happen and swerved in the nick of time.
Throughout the day there were multiple motorsports demonstrations. The ﬁrst one of the day was a two-lap outing for the Toyota 7, Toyota’s ﬁrst purpose built racing car for the Group 7 racing series.
Later in the day the Le Mans winning TS050 Hybrid impressed crowds as it went around Fuji Speedway for several laps. There was a tangible feeling in the air when this car went out on track and Japanese fans watched in awe as this was the only second Japanese car to win at Le Mans.
Next up on track were the 24H Nurburgring cars. Toyota, well Lexus, took this opportunity to show next year’s entrant with the new 24H-spec LC500. In its stealth black styling it looked properly cool leading the parade of LFAs and IS F race cars. Despite these cars making their mark at the Green Hell, it was a special sight seeing them take on the Dunlop corner with Mount Fuji in the background. There were also exhibition laps of the Super Formula and Super GT cars.
Elsewhere, there were demonstrations of Dakar trucks and a ‘mini’ rally held within the various sectors of the Fuji Speedway parking lots. It was cool to see these cars throughout the day with various stages of dirt on them. By the end of the day they were appropriately ﬁlthy.
The best thing about the Gazoo Racing Festival was something called the Circuit Safari. When I ﬁrst saw this on the schedule I thought it’d be something I could skip. But that would’ve been a grave mistake. For just 2000 yen ($15) fans can get taken around Fuji Speedway on a bus. Just to go around the Fuji circuit, even on a bus is special enough, but this isn’t just a normal tour bus. No, this is Toyota’s version of Jurassic Park. Instead of seeing and hearing dinosaurs out the bus window fans were side-by-side with racing cars. Drivers would do hot laps around the buses, some slowing down for photos and videos alongside the buses before setting oﬀ again.
This was a surprise and next time I’d like to see what it’s like from inside the buses. Tour guides were made up of racing drivers giving talking in depth about the cars they’re seeing. Of course it’s all in Japanese but still worth trying out.
The only thing I wished they would’ve done was to take more of their Le Mans cars out on track instead of leaving them on display in the pit garages. It would’ve been a special sight to see the GT-One out in motion especially in the same year they took their LMP1 win, but perhaps that’ll be for another event.
What it lacked in racing cars, it made up for with road cars. Toyota brought out the big guns to the celebration of all things Gazoo. The new Supra prototype was on display for most of the day and eventually went out on track to do a few laps.
But the highlight had to be the uber-cool Century GRMN. Built as a one-oﬀ for the CEO, it’s a crazy exercise to bring attention to the GRMN and perhaps hinting at the possibility of branching out to fettling with some luxury models in the future. An Alphard GRMN anyone?
As with every Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival, the Toyota 2000GT and Lexus LFA Owner’s Club had a strong presence. Around a dozen LFAs and eleven 2000GTs showed up which was deﬁnitely one of the highlights of the event. A surprise appearance from Max Orido’s personal Mk4 Supra at the end of the day was the cherry on top of the Toyota cake that was the Gazoo Racing Festival.
I applaud Toyota’s eﬀorts in making this event as family-friendly as possible with a push into activities for children. It’s a great way to make future generations appreciate cars and goes with Toyota’s whole thing about making their brand appear more fun and enjoyable.
Though similar on paper to the NISMO Festival, it’s quite a diﬀerent event for diﬀerent kinds of people. This has a more general appeal to it while NISMO is deﬁnitely more for the car geeks. The great thing is it’s entirely doable to attend both. Which is win-win for everyone.
Ken Saito is a Guest Writer specialising in Automobiles who resides in Japan. With a B.A. majoring in Media Studies with minors in Asian Studies and History from Victoria University in New Zealand, Ken has contributed to motoring websites like DriveLive New Zealand, CarsOfTokyo (Japan), Jalopnik (USA) and Petrolicious (USA), as well as magazines like Lords Magazine (France) and Automobile (USA).
Ken may be one of the few people to have been ‘canyon carving’ in a Cadillac SUV against a Ferrari F40…